Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
The Power of the Light
The Power of the Light
Readings: 1 John 1:5—2:2; Psalm 124:2-3, 4-5, 7cd-8; Matthew 2:13-18
A day after using white vestments for the Feast of John our continuing celebration of Christmas returns us to the blood red color of the martyrs. Why, we may wonder yet again, is there an apparent obsession with suffering and death, with darkness and gloom, even as the Church continues to celebrate the birthday of its Lord and Savior? …
I’m reading a book that some parishioners gave me as a Christmas present. It’s such an insightful and enjoyable read that I sometimes almost cannot contain my delight. Today, I found this little gem of a sentence: There is no recognition of the true light except in the midst of true darkness. We might say too that the converse is also true: that there is no recognition of true darkness except in the midst of true light.
And isn’t this the truth that our readings are presenting to us today? God is light, we are told in the first reading, there is no darkness in him at all. Yet, when that light shines so brilliantly upon us in the gospel – in the birth of the infant Jesus – it is recognized especially by contrast to the darkness: the darkness present in human hearts like Herod’s; the darkness that causes weeping and loud lamentation because innocent children are massacred.
If we do continue to celebrate martyrdom in the octave of Christmas it is not out of a masochism that takes pleasure in brooding over the shadow side of life. Rather, by bravely dwelling on the darkness of death and destruction, we hope to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the awesome power of the light, the same light emanating from the face of the babe in the manger.
And the power of this divine light is brought out especially well by the martyrs we celebrate today. From one perspective, their death is a horrible tragedy. Yet, in faith, we also see it as an entrance into eternal glory. And their triumph fills us with true Christmas joy and hope especially when we consider who they are. For these martyrs are neither learned doctors of the church, nor are they mighty saints. They are celebrated neither for their deep knowledge of the faith nor for any great works they themselves have done. They are mere infants. They understand little. They are probably hardly able even to speak or to stand on their own two feet. And yet, it is as we shall hear later in our prayer over the gifts, through their martyrdom, the Lord gives them life even before they understand.
How marvelous then is this great power that we celebrate at Christmas. Not only does it enable us to recognize the sinfulness in our hearts and in our world, but it also has the power to free us from the darkness – even in spite of our weakness and lack of understanding – and usher us into the light. Indeed, it is as we heard in the response to the psalm: our life, like a bird, has escaped from the snare of the fowler. This is the wondrous power of the light that we celebrate at Christmas, a power that we begin to appreciate all the more when we are willing to contemplate as well the darkness that it comes to dispel.
Today, how are we being ushered out of darkness into the light?